2 former Linden firefighters file discrimination lawsuits

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Two former Linden firefighters have filed lawsuits against the city, alleging that they were subject to harassment and racism.

Surrounded and supported by religious leaders, an attorney for the two former firefighters says that the department has allowed racism to pervade it. He says that this is why they have filed the lawsuit. He says that his clients were forced out of the department after the harassment led to health problems.

"We allege that when my clients went to all the ‘powers that be’ that they could to exhaust their remedies not only were they told nothing can be done about it, but they were told to shut their mouths or something would be done to them,” says attorney Gregg Zeff.

Joseph Braxton and Mark Bullock both allege that they dealt with years of racism on the job. They say that they were denied training and advancement opportunities and assigned unfair work. They also say that their colleagues and their chief called them derogatory names, including racial slurs.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead issued a statement Wednesday about the situation.

"I realize that the issues occurred not only in the fire department but the city as a whole,” the mayor stated.

Armstead noted that the fire chief mentioned in the lawsuit has since retired. And he says that he is now addressing these issues with the new chief.

Armstead’s statement continued, “[Chief] William Hasko is working with me in putting together a plan to address the concerns that have arisen in the fire department and I am confident that we will be successful in making Linden more fair and equitable for everyone.”

But Braxton and Bullock say that after years of their concerns being ignored, the mayor’s words are too little, too late.

“What we're seeking to ensure is that we don't simply have a change at the head of the organization while the body remains corrupt,” says advocate Rev. Barry Wise.

The lawsuit asks for back pay, reinstatement, restoration of benefits and a handful of other damages. The firefighters say they want to see permanent change in Linden.

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